All you need to know about the Thai election

Battle lines have been drawn, largely between the conservative military-backed establishment and the progressive groups that oppose military coups.

Tan Tam Mei

Tan Tam Mei

The Straits Times


May 2, 2023

BANGKOK – Thailand will go to the polls on May 14, with some 70 political parties contesting in the general election. Battle lines have been drawn, largely between the conservative military-backed establishment and the more progressive groups that oppose military coups.

Here are seven things you need to know about the elections:

1. Second election since 2014 coup

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha dissolved Parliament on March 20, paving the way for the second election to be held after Thailand’s latest military coup in 2014.

The last election happened in 2019.

In 2023, more than 6,000 candidates will be contesting for 500 seats in Parliament’s Lower House.

There are more than 52 million eligible voters across Thailand’s 77 provinces.

2. Who wants to be the Prime Minister

Mr Prayut, 69, is hoping to return to the premiership under the new Ruam Thai Sang Chart, also known in English as the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party. Earlier in 2023, he deserted the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) which had nominated him for prime minister in the 2019 polls.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, 77, is also vying for the premiership as the PPRP’s nominee for prime minister.

But popularity polls show both former army chiefs lagging behind opposition Pheu Thai Party’s 36-year-old prime ministerial nominee Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Also on Pheu Thai Party’s ballot for prime minister is property development tycoon Srettha Thavisin, 60, and party strategist Chaikasem Nitisiri, 74.

Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat, 42, is his party’s candidate for prime minister and has also been faring well in opinion surveys.

Other candidates competing for the prime minister post include those from the incumbent coalition, like Bhumjaithai’s Mr Anutin Charnvirakul, 56, and the Democrat party’s Mr Jurin Laksanawisit, 67.

3. Pheu Thai vs Prayut

The election is set to be a showdown mainly between two parties – incumbent Prime Minister Prayut’s UTN and opposition front runner Pheu Thai, an offshoot of Thaksin’s defunct Thai Rak Thai Party.

Since rising to power after staging the 2014 coup, Mr Prayut and other pro-military bodies have sought to limit the influence of Thaksin and his associated political parties.

Although Mr Prayut has parted ways with the military-backed PPRP, he retains the support of the conservative establishment.

Thaksin, 73, lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid jail time for corruption charges he claims are politically motivated.

Thaksin’s allegedly populist policies and growing influence in the early 2000s was seen as a challenge to Thailand’s entrenched royalist political factions. He was also accused of corruption and crony capitalism.

Thaksin-linked parties have won the most seats in every election since 2001, but their governments were ousted by military coups in 2006 and 2014.

With Ms Paetongtarn at the helm of Pheu Thai’s election campaign, opinion polls put the party in the lead to win the most MP seats.

4. New two-ballot system

A total of 500 seats in Parliament’s Lower House are up for grabs. This consists of 400 constituency seats and 100 party-list seats.

Each voter will get two slips at the ballot box, one to vote for a candidate running in their local constituency and another to choose their preferred political party on a national level.

The 400 constituency seats will be given to candidates who win the most votes in each district.

And the 100 party-list seats will be distributed proportionately to political parties based on their share of votes nationwide.

A party, or a group of parties, will need to win, or gather, at least 251 of the 500 Lower House seats to form the government.

Before the election, each party can nominate up to three candidates for prime minister. The party must win at least 25 MP seats to get these names on a parliamentary-ballot.

Parliament, which is made out of the Lower House and the 250-member junta-appointed senate, will then take a vote.

The prime ministerial candidate with at least 376 votes will head the government.

Assuming that a candidate has the entire senate on their side, they will only need 126 votes from elected MPs to win the premiership.

The senate, which in the 2019 election voted overwhelmingly in favour of Mr Prayut as prime minister, could pose a challenge to other parties vying for the premiership.

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